HH Lama Achuk Rinpoche’s Paranirvana –Chronology of Events
23 July 2011, Sichuan Province, Baiyu County, the founder of Yachen Gar, a great exponent of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection teaching, HH Lama Achuk Rinpoche (HH Jamyang Lungdok Gyalsen) enters into paranirvana (1927 – 2011).
30 July 2011, Yachen Gar formally announced to the news of HH Lama Achuk Rinpoche’s passing into paranirvana to the outside world. Devotees from all parts of the world were allowed to view the body of Lama Achuk and pay their final respect to a great master. All sangha members from Yachen Gar gathered to recite sutra for a period of 49 days.
29 August 2011, the cremation ceremony of Lama Achuk commenced. The body of Lama Achuk shrunk from a height of 1.8 meters to about 1 inch tall, a sign of achieving the rainbow body. From time of Lama Achuk’s paranirvana to the cremation, many auspicious signs appear, five colored rainbows are often sighted in the sky and the area surrounding Lama Achuk’s body often appears five colored pure lights bindu. More than 100,000 sangha members and lay devotees attended the puja and paid respect to the sacred body of Lama Achuk, it was a spectacular sight to behold.
Lama Achuk was born in 1927 in Trom, Eastern Tibet as foretold by Guru Rinpoche. Since a tender age of 24, he served Tulku Arik Rinpoche for 43 years. He learned and mastered the realizations of the Great Perfection-Dzogchen. Since then, following his Guru’s instructions and to benefit more sentient beings, he established Yachen Gar in 1983, an encampment of thousands of monks, nuns and lay practitioners. At age of 84, he entered into paranirvana and achieved the rainbow body, a great inspiration to disciples to persevere in their practice of the Great Perfection teachings.
After Lama Achuk went into paranirvana, every devotees who came forward to pay their respect made the following aspirations, i.e. not to steal, not to consume intoxicant, not to drink alcoholic drinks, not to engage in the trading of live stocks and to continue to recite 108 times of Om Ahmi Dewa Hrih mantra (Amitabha Mantra) and Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hung mantra (Chenrezig Mantra) daily. Most of them are lay devotees with their wavering faith in Lama Achuk made these aspirations a part of their lives. Every devotee who returns to wherever they come from will carry with them this whiff of pure loving kindness to wherever they go. This whiff of pure loving kindness will flow to every city, town, and country. This is the power and strength of a highly realized being.
And there are many monks and nuns who made aspiration in front of Lama Achuk to enter into 3 years or 5 years retreats, and some even resolved to do retreat forever. They truly actualized Lama Achuk’s teachings, understood the true nature of their mind and realized the equal state of realizations as that of Lama Achuk.
“Whichever pureland that Guru goes, we shall be there too”. – Lama Ahchuk’s last sentences.
Lama Achuk’s final teachings to all disciples is to stay united harmoniously, to keep pure precepts, and not to forget our meditation practice. Whichever pureland that Lama Achuk goes, we will be there too. Lama Achuk said before that anyone who complete the practice of 1,000,000 times of Amitabha Mantra will definitely go to the pure land of Dewachen.”
yachenlama Rinpoche said this in a class: “Since Lama Achuk Rinpoche’s paranirvana, everything is like a dream, it is as if Lama Achuk has never left us, the times that we spent with Lama Achuk came to my mind, just like he was right here beside us. Everytime, after the class, I feels like wanted to talk to Lama Achuk as usual. Only upon walking to his little house, staring at his sacred body that it dawn on me that he has left, the Lama Achuk that appears in my dream just dissolved into my dream….” “It was a very painful period for me, this is my attachment to Guru, but that is not just attachment, I recall the benevolence that Guru showed me, and from this point of view, it cannot be expressed in any words or language, I can only use my live to repay the kindness of a Buddha.”
Although Rinpoche was in deep sadness, he still continuously gave blessings to all devotees who came to pay respect to Lama Achuk’s sacred body, and continuously gave teachings to new devotees. Continue to propagate the precious Great Perfection teachings which Lama Achuk left for us. May the Great Perfection teachings spread far and wide.
“My dear children, you must drink yogurt, joyfully play, you must be happy!” Lama Rinpoche said this to us during the Vajra Dance Puja, Lama laughed heartily after saying this. Lama Rinpoche was always so happy.
“I miss Lama Rinpoche, Lama Rinpoche is always so jovial when giving teachings. He sometimes would tell us jokes. When I called my brother also an ordained person, telling him what Lama Rinpoche taught, he would say I have very good merits to be able to listen to such profound teachings. Come summer, Lama Rinpoche would stay on the grassland for a month, giving teachings to us every morning, and that was my happiest moment. The saddest thing was not practicing well when Lama Rinpoche was around, I did not treasure then.” The A Tibetan nun said with tears in her eyes.
This is only one of the many nuns, every nun are filled with sadness after Lama Rinpoche passed into paranirvana, they would always cry together after reciting the sutra, and never feel tired when queuing to see Lama’s body, they would wake up at 3, 4 am and start queuing, the queue was always very long, the queue starts from one side of the river bank to the other. Regardless of blazing sun or heavy rain, they would queue silently, reciting Lama Rinpoche’s name. And in front of Lama Rinpoche’s body, they would diligently complete one seating of the Guru Yoga’s practice, and refused to leave even after that, chanting “Tsa Wei Lama Rinpoche”, “Tsa Wei Lama Rinpoche” (My Root Guru in Tibetan) until they were asked to leave. After leaving the grounds of Lama Rinpoche, some nun continued to do full prostration at the foyer where Lama’s picture was, a few aged nuns, though their knees are weak, would pause a while and continue to do the full prostration, they silently pray for Lama Rinpoche to return swiftly to benefit limitless sentient beings.
“Granny, queue tomorrow, it is already passed nine.” A 19 years old granddaughter said this to her 77 years old granny. They travelled many hours in car to reach Yachen Gar, it was already 6-7 pm when they arrived. After alighting from the car, they did not rest but joined the queue, until passed 10 pm, they finally managed to pay respect to Lama Rinpoche’s body. The old granny moved unsteadily with a khatag in her hands, presented her most precious offerings, tears filled her face. This is the older Tibetan’s faith and devotion to Lama Achuk, unable to express in any words and language. Late in the night, when back to their dwelling place, the granddaughter was worried that the old granny would catch a cold and gently covered the old granny with blanket, and prepare meal for the granny. The old granny seldom chit chats during her free time, always holding her white rosary, doing silent recitation of mantras. Before going to bed, granny was not in a comfortable posture, the granddaughter thought granny wants to rest and help granny took off her jacket, not knowing that granny was trying to do some prostration to Lama Achuk, a difficult gesture for the old granny that was filled with such deep faith and devotion. Early morning at 4am, the granny continued to join the queue to see Lama Rinpoche, after that, she returned to her hometown in the afternoon car.
This is a short story of a devoted Tibetan. They came from afar just to be able to see Lama Rinpoche, their unwavering faith and respect despite having very little, often a stale biscuit and a bottle of mineral water to fill the stomach, but so pure and devoted is their heart.
“Quick! Wake up!, Lama Rinpoche, on the moon!” a nun was nudging her sister who was beside her at 12 midnight to wake up. They climbed up to the rooftop, faced the moon and recited: “Lama Rinpoche, Lama Rinpoche, Lama Rinpoche!”
Many nuns and monks believed that Lama Rinpoche had manifested on the sun, moon, in the sky above. The time after Lama Rinpoche entered paranirvana till cremation, many miraculous signs appear in the sky such as rainbow, clouds, colored bindu, etc.
For example, on a clear sky, with no rain and just a few clusters of cloud, a rainbow arch appeared in the sky, with very definitive five colors for a period of ten over minutes. This phenomenon happened for about 4-5 times. These were the sign of Lama Achuk’s achievement and demonstration of prefect rainbow body. It is one of the largest even in Yachen Gar, as well as in recent Buddhist history!
The most renowned meditation master in Tibet, Akhyuk Rinpoche, Jamyang Lungtok Gyaltsen (aka Drubwang Lungtok Gyatso) passed away Saturday at his remote encampment in the highlands of Eastern Tibet. Together with the late Khenpo Jikmé Phuntsok (1933-2004) of Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, Akhyuk Rinpoche revitalized the study and practice of Buddhism in Eastern Tibet beginning in the 1980s, eventually drawing tens of thousands of students from across Tibet and China to his Buddhist encampment of Yachen Gar.
I first met Akhyuk Rinpoche (pronounced Acho) nearly fifteen years ago, and continued to visit him whenever I returned to Eastern Tibet. Every time I met Akhyuk Rinpoche something extraordinary occurred that profoundly impacted my mind and perspective on spiritual practice. I feel extremely fortunate to have received teachings from Akhyuk Rinpoche, as he was truly one of Tibet's last great yogis who was formally trained and practiced in Tibet before the Chinese occupation in the 1950s.
The first time I went to see Akhyuk Rinpoche I arrived like most other pilgrims to Yachen Gar, dust covered and spent from long days of travel by bus through Sichuan Province and then hitchhiking and walking on the Tromthar Plateau. Akhyuk Rinpoche was staying in his one-room hermitage where he had been for the past decades, sitting in meditation, when not receiving students and pilgrims. I asked the rather stern looking monk for a blessing and after reciting a few prayers, Akhyuk Rinpoche reached towards his chest and pulled from his bare skin a ringsel, a kind of pearl-like relic that is often found in cremation pyres of saints. I had only read about ringsel, never having seen one, and certainly did not know that the sacred relic might manifest while the saint was still alive. I later learned that such physical signs of spiritual realization indeed could come during the life of accomplished yogis. Upon handing me the small ringsel, I felt, for a few minutes, what can only be described as, my awareness knew no bounds. Akhyuk Rinpoche recommended that I wear it in my amulet as a protection. I felt as though it was a reminder of how the mind is when it is set free from the habitual patterns of chasing after thoughts.
On another occasion a year later, after giving a short Buddhist teaching to my Tibetan travel partner and me, Akhyuk Rinpoche spontaneously pulled his shirt and shawl over his head and yelled, "What do you see?" Upon looking on his chest, a shadow-like but very clearly defined triangular shape, pointing downward, extended the length of his body, as well as a darkened swoosh on his neck, as if painted lightly with an ink brush. The unconventional master explained that the triangle shape was the appearance of a ritual phurba-dagger (used to vanquish the self-cherishing ego) on his body as a result of deep states of meditation. That I could see it was a sign of our spiritual connection, but because the details were not clear was an indication that I needed to spend long periods in meditation retreat. The ink swoosh, Akhyuk Rinpoche told me, was a sign of the blessing of his own teacher, Arik Rinpoche, who had a long whispy beard.
I heard many such mystical stories about Akhyuk Rinpoche from his students during my ten-years of travel throughout Tibet. Students spoke in awe of his vast learning, where he could recite entire books by memory. Yet, the most significant impact Akhyuk Rinpoche had on students was in his unique way of guiding them through their meditation and yogic practices.
"To be taught such practices from a master who has himself accomplished them, reached the pinnacle of the practice, this truly has the power to impact our minds," a senior student at Yachen Gar once told me. "Otherwise, it is just dry philosophy and book knowledge that does not penetrate to your heart." That thousands of Akhyuk Rinpoche's students spent years in meditation retreat, and are continuing to do so, is testament to their devotion to emulate their teacher's profound path of spiritual accomplishment.
Akhyuk Rinpoche experienced great hardship in his life, especially during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Eventually, after the death of Arik Rinpoche in 1988, Akhyuk Rinpoche began teaching. Students settled around him in the barren highlands of the Eastern Tibetan where the monks and nuns lived in simple mud-walled houses, burning yak dung for fuel. Above fourteen thousand feet in elevation, windswept and exposed, it offered few comforts. For the hermits, however, the infinite sky view and lack of distraction found in villages and cities make it ideal for meditation. The meditators were once described to me as, "sons and daughters of the mountains choosing mist as their clothes and meditation as their food."
During the 1990s, the population of monks and nuns at Yachen Gar (also known as Yachen Orgyen Samten Chöling) grew to over 7,000. Despite the nonpolitical nature of the monks and nuns meditating at Yachen, trouble was at their doorstep. The Chinese authorities deemed problematic this encampment of adobe huts and tents filled with meditating monks, nuns and lay practitioners. Not only did such an encampment exhibit the strength and resilience of Tibetan identity and its unique wisdom culture, it also stirred the principal fear that the Chinese Communist Party has about Tibet; a complete lack of legitimacy, even after 60 years of rule. In the fall of 2001, just months after the demolition of thousands of homes at the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Golok, Chinese authorities acted upon their fear and ordered the demolition of large parts of Yachen Gar. I visited Yachen during this dark time to photograph the destruction, and subsequently wrote about it in In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet.
Akhyuk Rinpoche remained at Yachen Gar during the demolitions and told his students not to generate anger towards the government's actions but rather to empathise with government officials who were in fact bringing upon themselves future suffering by their present negative deeds. Despite the destruction and repressive policies by Chinese authorities, Akhyuk Rinpoche continued to teach his students and the monastic community survived with a new nunnery being constructed in recent years and plans for a medical clinic for meditators.
During my last visit to Yachen Gar, Akhyuk Rinpoche told me the authorities from the provincial capital telephoned him every day to check on his whereabouts. Such calls had been kept up for years. I asked Akhyuk Rinpoche what he tells the Chinese police.
"Every day I tell them I'm in the same place I have been for the last twenty years; sitting in meditation at my hermitage!"
Akhyuk Rinpoche (b. 1927) died at his hermitage at Yachen Gar on July 23, 2011.